She ran down the hill to hug me, scraped knees and bug bites, her shirt covered in yogurt, and it couldn’t have been more perfect.

She was everything I had hoped I’d find — happy to see me and happy to be in her element. We shared a quick hug before she took off, eager to find her friends among the crowds of families reuniting with their daughters. I suppose I should’ve been offended — after all, a week is certainly much longer than the record one night we’ve spent apart so far in her life — but I wasn’t. I knew exactly what she was feeling. In that tiny interaction, with about four sentences spoken between us, I knew how the week had gone: There had been no tears shed on my behalf, no homesickness (which explained the ZERO letters I’d received and the four unopened letters I later found stuffed in her bag with “E.V. Shove – Tweedle Dee” scrawled my handwriting across the front). During a week spent at sleep-away camp, Emma Vance had found her place, made new friends, become more independent and self-reliant. It was clear that she had discovered a part of who she is apart from me, and I wasn’t offended with her lack of sentimentality. In a weird way, I was kinda’ proud.

I went to camp as a kid starting in middle school. I always wished I had started younger, and so it was (almost) a given that E.V. would start as soon as possible. I do have to admit that, even knowing what I know about my experience as a camper and even after two Mother-Daughter Weekends spent at Merri-Mac, I was a bit nervous. A whole WEEK? At age SIX? People looked at me like I was crazy. And, to be honest, part of me agreed. Thankfully E.V. had two friends sign up with her, which helped to quiet my worries. At least I’d have two other moms to empathize with. At least they’d have two familiar faces and shoulders to cry on…or not.

I had imagined there would be some trepidation, some anxious goodbyes, perhaps a few wet eyes when we dropped the girls off. But I was wrong. I was totally surprised: The girls practically pushed us out of the cabin! (I actually had to beg for a hug from E.V. on my way out, haha!) And then I surprised myself by crying zero tears as we pulled away. I’d envisioned awkward sobbing in the car while my friend silently drove us back to Atlanta, trying to pretend she didn’t notice my sniffles and raccoon eyes. But I surprised myself; I was totally fine as we drove home. (Pat on the back, self!)

And, truthfully, I was totally fine all week long. Ryan was out of town for work, so Cricket and I spent a girls’ week together. I had about one million things going on to distract me, and I intermittently stalked the camp website for pictures of my ragamuffin. (The camp posts a few hundred pictures three times a day, probably in an effort to thwart the one million “Is my daughter alive?” phone calls they’d otherwise receive. And it works!) I spotted E.V. everyday, riding horses, shooting arrows, clinging to counselors in order to avoid the fish in the lake. I saw her grinning one afternoon with a handful of candy and Gatorade, surrounded by teenage girls that she most certainly invited herself to sit with. I winced at her wild hair, barely brushed, each day. (And, yes, I even wrote a letter begging her to have a counselor to braid it — but as I mentioned, unopened letters. Gah.) I saw her sleepy-eyed on Christmas-in-July morning, happy to have a doughnut delivered to her cabin. I saw her…well, happy.

In hindsight, what I really saw was my child. In many ways it was like seeing her for the first time, the real her. It’s almost unimaginable for mothers to get to know their true daughters (the ones that exist without us) quite frankly, because we’re always there. I suppose most people think of their middle and high schoolers in these terms — well-aware that most of their children’s truest selves are saved for their peers to experience. In reality, though, at six E.V. already has relationships, experiences, and a personality that exist apart from me. And while most kids don’t get to really explore that independent part of themselves at such a young age, most moms will never get the opportunity to see who their child is apart from them regardless of their age. Sending Emma Vance to camp gave both of us opportunities do just that — to explore and to observe.

I’m thankful to have E.V. home and thankful for the bits of detail about her week that are slowly surfacing. (I swear I sent a first grader to camp and got back a teenager.) I learned that her favorite part of camp was “TrayPo” (the Trading Post, where the campers can get candy and drinks in the afternoon), unsurprisingly. I didn’t wince when she proudly admitted that she only ate yogurt and bread for seven days straight. I laughed when she declared didn’t like archery anymore because “I didn’t hit the target very much.” (We’re working on her competitiveness.) I’ve laughed several times with her that her horse’s name was Peanut “and they have a ‘Butter’ but now they need a ‘Jelly!’” I was not shocked to hear that she “loves Iroquois and HATES Choctaw because they won The Banner.” (See “working on competitiveness” above.) I’ve learned how to play Gold Rush and Sock War, that E.V.’s new dream is to own a pottery wheel, and that she slid down a muddy hill and scraped her leg but didn’t cry once.

And, best of all, I agreed with E.V. when she declared that “I want to stay here forever. Even when I die.” Me, too, kiddo!

Leaving for Camp / Jealous Little Sister

Road Trip (complete with Ingles visit + hotel swimming)

Drop-off Day!

A week filled with activities + friends for Emma Vance, a week filled with online photo stalking for me, haha!

Cricket’s first solo road trip to pick up E.V. (and clearly she’s pumped!)

with a quick stop at a friend’s farm, complete with its own LAKE!

Pick-up Day + Closing Ceremonies

Last Lunch

Bye-Bye, Merri-Mac! Until next year!

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